By Rachel Florman
As smartphone technology becomes more prevalent in society, more agricultural applications are available for farmers. However, not all applications will be useful, says Aaron Ault, a Rochester, Ind., farmer and Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering.
"Personally, I'm not going to use a mobile device for something just because mobile devices are neat," Ault says. "I use a mobile device because I couldn't do it any other way, or because that way on the mobile device is better than what I was doing before."
In some cases, tech-savvy farmers are adapting existing programs to meet their business needs. To satisfy his farm's need for a streamlined record system, Ault began using www.trello.com, a cloud-based service that can track his farm's tasks, hauling information and bills. To adapt to his area's poor phone reception and slow screen loading, Ault created a simple, low data web page for easier and faster data input. Using the system, Ault and his employees can input and access nearly all of the data collected on the farm.
Dennis Buckmaster, a Purdue professor of agriculture and biological engineering, says he expects to see a future increase in connectivity between phone software and farming hardware such as combines and other systems where sensors measure and record data. Through such systems, the sensor information could be directly accessible where the farmers need it – in the fields.
There are even some special applications that connect smartphones to the machinery itself. LoadOut Technologies LLC's YellowBox is a system that connects to hazardous farm machinery, such as a conveyer belt, and allows farmers to work the controls from afar using a Wi-Fi signal. Through YellowBox, farmers can operate their machinery away from hazardous elements like dust, climbing or dangerous equipment.
When looking for applications to use, Ault suggests farmers utilize programs that solve a single, specific problem.
"The approach in the industry right now is to create one application to solve all of your problems," Ault says. "However, the more an application does, the more buttons and screens you have to go through to get what you want and the longer it takes to get your task done."
Ault says he feels simpler, one-task applications are more likely to be helpful for farmers.
"An app that has five buttons that you learn the pictures on them, or the pictures make some sense is much easier to use for somebody who's not devoted to trying to figure out how to use apps than something that requires you to transform your entire farming operation just to use the one little application," Ault says.
Ault describes an ideal agriculture phone application as one that addresses a farmer's motivation to use the app, simple enough to work without a user manual and one that can perform its tasks quickly and efficiently--even while on a slow rural network.
Florman is a senior at Purdue University studying Ag Communications